With its snow-capped peaks, rice terraces, forests, and lakes and gorges, China’s south western province of Yunnan offers one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the country. Known for its large number of ethnic minorities (more than 25), its dotted with traditional tea houses, stunning pagodas, and many museums and temples, leaving a lasting impression on all those who come to experience it.
There is so much to discover and experience in Yunnan, so our friends and China tour specialists at Insider Journeys have given us their top 10 reasons to visit this part of old world China, sharing their expert picks and tips along the way.
1. A glimpse into ‘traditional’ China
Away from the hustle and bustle of the country’s major modern cities, Yunnan’s quaint villages, peaceful temples, cobbled streets and traditional tea houses, offer an enchanting look into old-world China.
2. Incredible natural scenery
From snow-capped mountains and rippling rice paddies, to the shimmering lakes and vast gorges at the foothills of the Himalayas, Yunnan spoils for choice with its natural wonders. Thanks to its great range of mountain treks and excellent cycling routes, the best way to explore the province’s natural gems is on foot and bike.
3. Tiger Leaping Gorge
Speaking of natural gems, this one is not to be missed. North of Lijiang, on the Jinsha River, you’ll find Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest canyons in the world. Arguably the best hiking trail in China, it offers breathtakingly beautiful scenery with inns and guesthouses for hikers along the way.
4. Charming Lijiang
The cobbled lanes, traditional timber houses, and local market squares of Lijiang will make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is like nowhere else in China and a definite must-see on your visit to Yunnan. While you’re there, brave a climb up Lion Hill – you’ll be glad you did when you’re awarded with jaw-dropping views of the old town.
5. Naxi culture
Lijiang is the perfect place to absorb another of Yunnan’s many ethnic minorities, the Naxi people. Wandering the market square often provides the chance to catch a traditional Naxi music and dance performance. Naxi people are warm and hospitable and enjoy celebrating their many different festivals, often resulting in a colorful display for visitors.
6. The walled city of Dali
Set on the shores of Erhai Lake, the walled city of Dali from the Ming dynasty is exceptionally beautiful and historic. It is home to the Bai people, one of 56 recognised minorities in China, who built the iconic Three Pagodas of Chong Sheng Temple just beyond the old city.
7. Tibetan culture
A taste of Tibet is available to those who head to Shangri-La (Zhongdian). Perched high in the mountains, this hillside town is a predominantly Tibetan community, complete with strings of prayer flags, Buddhist monasteries and traditional wooden dwellings.
8. Yak butter tea
While in Shangri-La, try yak butter tea – a traditional Tibetan delicacy. Some travellers may even be lucky enough to get the chance to sit down with a Tibetan family and enjoy the drink with the locals.
9. Sample Yunnan’s unique cuisine
Yunnan’s best known dish is Guoqiao, literally meaning ‘crossing the bridge noodles’. It is a rice noodle soup similar to the popular Vietnamese dish Pho – not surprising as Yunnan shares a border with Vietnam.
10. ‘The Spring City’, Kunming
Kunming is the modern capital city of Yunnan Province. Its spring-like climate makes it ideal to explore its many museums or wander Green Lake Park (Cui Hu Park), which was designed in the 17th century. Kunming’s picturesque bridges, pavilions and abundant lush vegetation, make it a heaven for photographers.